“Pray that you will marry your beloved this year,” a famous Egyptian preacher told a group of teenagers at a Ramadan suhur. He epitomized Egypt’s challenges by reaching out to his young supporters and expressing a religious invocation (Dua’a) that they get married soon.
Young preachers often enjoy initial success because of their talent in communicating their own religious outlook to other young people who are often religiously ignorant, and accept such information without question. These preachers then move on to a wider sphere through being hosted by TV channels that help to establish their fame, until they finally achieve the status of renowned popular figures in our community — without ever being challenged by any authority or submitting to any examination of their religious knowledge.
Preaching should not be based on the ability to recite a few Qu’ranic verses to audiences; it is more about reaching an advanced state of substantive and spiritual religious understanding. By default, people who become “preachers” at an early age lack the maturity and the wisdom that the job requires. Young Egyptian preachers, who certainly have the talent to simplify and convey religious tenets, nevertheless lack the fundamental personality traits that would qualify them for this high status. Additionally, people in this age bracket are vulnerable to many of life’s temptations that they will have to confront because of their popularity.
“I am not a preacher; I am an intellectual philosopher!” is the flashy declaration made by another Egyptian preacher who suddenly decided to give up his undeserved role to take up another elevated position that he created for himself. Aside from the fact that he accorded himself a position that should be based only upon deep knowledge, this decision illustrates how popularity that is not backed up by a true understanding of Islam can easily misguide a “preacher” who is supposed to set an example of modesty.
Old-fashioned and unlikeable older preachers have driven many young people to simply set themselves up as “preachers,” reaching out to their peers. Supported by our phony system for authorizing preachers, they have managed to become quite popular. Furthermore, the Egyptian state implicitly welcomes the emergence of these young preachers, who are perceived as a tool to frame society – disregarding the fact that we are thus distancing our young people from truly understanding the good values of Islam.
The moral welfare of young Egyptians is too important to be left to inexperienced religious preachers who lack the maturity, wisdom and knowledge for such a crucial job.
“I have my own followers,” is a claim made by numerous Egyptian preachers who believe that their popularity, and the support of many ignorant followers, legitimizes their preaching and allows them to speak about everything in our society, not just religion. Sadly, these preachers strive only to promote themselves, eventually becoming engaged in many commercialized events that attract the wealthy.
Egypt’s youngsters are our future. They have been given better education, often come up with good ideas, and are energetic about implementing them. The Egyptian government should work to enable them to occupy leading positions in diverse fields – except for the field of religious preaching, where seniority and wisdom matter immensely. Leadership often comes with specific qualifications and merits that youngsters should work to realize – not achieve simply by being popular.
The damage that many young preachers are causing to society is irreversible. Popularity should not legitimize preaching (or the assumption of leading roles in any field that requires explicit qualifications). Preaching, even to acquaintances, should be regulated either by the government or by Al-Azhar. Egyptians who want to capitalize on their popularity should consider exploring other fields besides religion. We are dealing with many challenges; we must not add new ones by allowing these sham preachers to harm our society.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.